Microgrids: Powering the future

Renewable and Non-renewable Energy for Microgrids

What Energy Sources are Used in Microgrids Today?


microgridMicrogrids that use clean and renewable energy (exclusively, or in combination with diesel/ gas) have become more accessible to everyone on the planet. Decentralized, off-grid energy systems (microgrids) help to achieve global success in making renewable energy and low carbon energy sources more widespread. Microgrids are a good idea for both developed and developing countries. By using microgrids, traditional fuel sources (fossil fuel-based sources from the grid) can be effectively bypassed.

The energy resources used in microgrids are commonly referred to as distributed energy resources (DER). Examples of DER are listed below.

Some of the energy systems (DER) that microgrids use today include  

There are many advantages to decentralized clean and renewable energy used in microgrids. It's less expensive, cleaner, and more efficient than the energy used in most municipal grids worldwide. Also, small utilities welcome the decentralizing of the power grid because it removes the monopoly of a single provider.

The following brief snippet provides a concise definition of microgrids:

"A system where both on-site generation and energy storage are present and managed together to provide an energy user reliable energy whether connected to the main power grid or not, is called a microgrid.

Microgrids provide all of the value of energy storage systems and on-site energy generation, like solar, but they also provide energy security and resiliency that solar energy and energy storage cannot provide on their own.

Microgrids can be programmed with different settings such that they maximize cost savings, keep power demand low, or operate independently from the grid."      FROM -  hsgs.solar/microgrids

Efficiency of Microgrids 

Gas generators continue to be used in microgrids as a low-cost, efficient, option. As the cost of renewable energy continues to drop and renewables become more accessible, expect fossil fuel sources to be gradually phased out of microgrids. Today, it is common to find hybrid energy systems for microgrids (any combination of the energy sources just described).

The efficiency of microgrids depends on the advancement of battery storage technology. Battery storage plays an important role in a microgrid.

The energy generated with a microgrid is sent to a centralized controller. The central controller is an automated computerized system that optimizes where and when the generated energy is dispatched. Energy from microgrids is used as electricity by energy customers and is stored for later use in microgrids with storage capacity.

Hospitals, fire stations, military bases, and schools/ colleges/ universities, benefit from the reliability, efficiency, and affordability of microgrids. In the United States, this was seen during Hurricane Sandy. NYU remained with power due to their microgrids, even while the rest of the New York power grid was down. Vital services, and many public services, had microgrids of one kind or another to remain operational.

A great example of microgrids in action in the United States is community solar, which has especially taken off in cities like Austin, Texas.

Here is a description of community solar from fireflower-alternative-energy

"A community solar project is very similar to a microgrid, in that it allows businesses [and residences]...to use clean, renewable, solar energy, which will not only save money on electricity, but [allow them to be] more sustainable. Community solar projects can be developed by a municipality or a private entity. The electricity-produced array can then be distributed in several different ways; either sold to other businesses and/or residents for an agreed-upon price, or businesses and/or residents may purchase a portion of the solar array and will receive credits for the electricity produced by that portion..." - quote from - fireflower-alternative-energy.com

The global market for microgrids

More communities around the world are using microgrids to power a small location. Microgrids allow individuals or organizations to power their homes, communities, and businesses. Decentralized energy systems allow energy customers to be independent from utility providers.

Globally, the microgrid market is forecasted to be over $30 billion by 2027, which is quite a bit higher than previously anticipated. The global microgrid market continues to grow rapidly. Here is a snippet of an article from Greentech Media about the growth of the global off-grid (microgrid) power market:

Off-grid energy, long the focus of nonprofits and governments, is becoming the next massive investment opportunity for the world’s biggest energy players, with hundreds of millions of dollars going into solar home systems and other energy solutions for the billions of people who lack access to reliable grid power, or any power at all.

FROM -   greentechmedia.com/articles/read/investment-in-off-grid-energy-access

Private investment globally (including a substantial amount from major global gas companies) outpaces public investment for microgrids. The key to the future success of the global microgrid market lies in maximizing both public and private investment. Decentralized off-grid energy systems are a worthy investment. The investing world wants to put money in these low carbon, highly efficient, energy technologies.

Microgrids spread across the developing world

Microgrids are ideal to provide power in hard-to-reach locations. Telecom towers can also get consistent power with the use of a microgrid. A microgrid is perfect for off-grid third-world applications. Decentralized energy systems are much more consumer-friendly, efficient, flexible, and affordable than constructing a power plant for a remote village. Rural communities on every continent benefit from microgrids.

Communities in developing countries (such as in Africa, Asia, and Latin America), especially those in remote locations, benefit from the deployment of microgrids. As African nations push for rural electrification, they look to microgrids as a solution. Microgrids that use renewable energy are more cost-effective and safer compared to fuels like kerosene that are widely used in Africa today.

Importance of Microgrids for Developing Communities

Kerosene often uses up to 20% of an average African's income, can cause fires and unhealthy air quality. A medium-sized solar photovoltaic power system with battery storage, on other hand, can be easily used by over 50 households, or an entire village. In many rural locations in Africa, smaller individual PV systems can power homes.

The power can be used for services currently lacking in many developing countries - lighting, cell phone charging, cooking, and for many other daily household needs. Microgrids can provide reliable power to hospitals and schools in developing communities.

Microgrids are important for remote communities throughout the world. Electrification of rural villages has been made possible through microgrids. The power needed for water pumping and purification is done with the help of various microgrids throughout the world. Mobile communication has a wider reach in the continents through telecom towers that are powered by microgrids.

Microgrids represent a better alternative

Microgrids are cheaper than building power lines into forests and mountains, especially in remote locations. Communities in developing countries rely on having microgrids installed, as often utilities don’t want to build long power lines to connect them to the grid.

Many rural communities have already built microgrids as their primary energy source. Every time a new microgrid installation is created, the energy and communications infrastructure of the community is improved.

Microgrids also improve the quality of life of the community, and the technological skill base of the locals is developed as well. Decentralized energy systems are not subject to market price fluctuations. Microgrids are reliable energy sources that keep running when the municipal grid goes down. They often represent backup energy with storage.

Society is Ready for Microgrids Worldwide

Both developed and developing countries can benefit from microgrids. This is especially true as renewable energy resources become increasingly accessible, lower cost, and more efficient. Utility providers and municipalities are becoming less reluctant to support microgrids. Some see it as a practical way to provide resiliency of energy, i.e. backup power, during natural disasters.

Another popular version of microgrids are community solar projects. Please see: Community solar - pushing renewable energy forward

Please also see:

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